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Protect your Children The internet is wonderful and broadens your horizons.
Guide and Nurture All the parenting experts recommend setting healthy boundaries for children when growing up. I then talked to their parents, and we sorted things out". Modern kids use all kinds of internet-connected devices, and modern parental control systems must keep up. Before settling on a particular parental control utility, you need to make sure that it supports all the device types in your household.
That said, Apple has recently announced the new Screen Time feature for the upcoming iOS 12 , a set of tools for monitoring and controlling app and device usage. Taken alongside iOS' existing Restrictions settings, when iOS 12 releases Apple will offer a free set of parental controls tools comparable to these paid alternatives, with the added benefit of first-party support. Note that some parental control utilities leverage VPN technology on iOS devices, running internet connections through a local app to enable content filtering.
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You'll see the VPN icon when such a utility is active, but it doesn't mean the child's connection is secured by a full-scale virtual private network, nor that the device's IP address is masked. Check, too, that any limits on the number of child profiles or devices won't be a problem. Large families, for example, will appreciate that Norton Family works on an unlimited number of devices.
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Most parental control software operates as a subscription service, so pricing tiers tend to align with device limits, though some offer free versions for basic protection on a limited number of devices. If your kids are strictly smartphone users, take a look at our roundup of mobile parental control apps. If getting parental control coverage installed on each of your family's devices starts to seem too difficult, consider a whole-network solution, such as Circle With Disney or Open DNS.
These systems perform content filtering at the router level, so your settings affect every device on the network. Naturally, you don't get the same fine level of control and detailed monitoring that you get with a local agent on each device, but this is a much broader solution. At the very least, a good parental control tool features content filtering—the ability to block access to websites matching categories such as hate, violence, and porn. This type of filtering only really works if it's browser-independent and works with secure HTTPS sites.
With no HTTPS filtering, a smart teen could bypass the system using a secure anonymizing proxy website or even a different web browser in some cases. Most also have the option to permanently enable SafeSearch. Of course, the most capable solutions also keep a detailed log of your child's web activity. Access scheduling is another very common feature. Some applications let parents set a weekly schedule for device usage, some control internet use in general, and others offer a combination of the two. A daily or weekly cap on internet usage can also be handy, especially if it applies to all your kids' devices.
The best services apply these two ideas to individual desktop and mobile applications as well. Qustodio, for example, can block apps entirely and set time usage limits. This is particularly useful for children who have a habit of playing games or using social media apps when they should be doing homework. As kids get older, content filtering may start to seem pointless. Hey, you let them watch Game of Thrones , right? At some point, you start to worry more about their interaction with the wider world. Sure, if their friends come over in person, you can at least meet them, but what about friends on social media and other contacts your child never mentions?
Who are they, really, and what are your kids discussing with them? Although some supervision is acceptable, you still need to respect your child's basic right to privacy and encourage open discussion, rather than using parental control software as spyware. Many services let you monitor contacts and messages and keep an eye out for potentially dangerous or unsanctioned situations. You can even block new contacts or view message content with some parental control software.
Keep in mind that this primarily applies to SMS texts; messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Snapchat typically do not fall under the same scope. Social media tracking can also provide a glimpse into your child's social life, though many services now only monitor Facebook. This kind of oversight usually requires that you either know your child's login credentials or convince them to log in and install the tracker's app.
Disabling this kind of data collection is a snap for the child, so here, more than ever, you need to be on the same page. Most kids are on mobile devices at least some of the time, and many are almost exclusively accessing the internet on their phones. Fortunately, many parental control services offer a companion app that lets you view your child's activity, set basic rules, and view notifications as they arrive—NetNanny is a particularly noteworthy example.
This kind of companion app is particularly useful for responding to access or time-extension requests on the go. Otherwise, you manage everything online, where you have fine control over activity reports and restrictions.
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Any changes you make should propagate to your children's devices when they connect to the internet. When your child tries to visit a blocked site, makes a post using iffy language, or otherwise bends the rules it sends you a notification to your preferred channel, such as via the app, web, email, text, or some combination of those options.
When you get beyond the basics, parental control systems start to diverge, with many advanced features to help them stand out from the crowd. Among these standout features are the ability to track your child's YouTube and Hulu viewing history, check your child's location, or even remotely lock down a device to force them to divert their attention. You'll also find advanced versions of standard features.
For example, the best content filters don't just use a database of categories. They analyze page content in real time so that, for example, they can allow access to a short-story site but block the erotica. In order to make an informed choice for your own family, check out our full reviews of these parental control solutions. If you have any suggestions for software to try or just want to sound off about a particularly positive or negative experience, please add your comments and join the discussion.
Pros: Cross-platform support. Time scheduler for internet, device, and application usage. Location tracking. Cons: Very expensive. Social monitoring only tracks Facebook. Dated web portal. Some iOS limitations. Pros: Supports Windows, Mac, Android. Web-based configuration and reporting. Powerful filtering. Cross-platform internet time allowance. App control for Android.
Cons: No new updates. No location tracking. Lacks advanced time management control. Limited iOS features. Pros: Affordable. Excellent web dashboard. Settings apply across all devices. No limit on number of PC, phones, tablets, or children protected. Tracks child's location. Cons: Does not work on Macs. No Free version anymore. Web extension is easily disabled. Platform-dependent features. Lackluster social media tracking. Bottom Line: Norton Family's top-notch web interface and wealth of features make it easy for parents to track and manage their children's activity across their many devices, though it doesn't work on Macs.
No limit on devices or child profiles. Flexible control of device and app usage. Robust web filtering. Extensive alert system. Cons: Several iOS limitations.
Best Parental Control Apps | Tom's Guide
Content filtering limited to specific browsers. Social monitoring only covers Facebook and VK. Sluggish web interface. Pros: Easy setup. Manages every device on your home network. Category-based content filtering. Can cut off Internet access at bedtime. Pause button for the Internet. Cons: Circle Go subscription surprisingly expensive. Matching names to devices can be difficult. Can cause alarming error messages in the browser. Minimal reporting. Pros: Parental control and monitoring for every device on your network.
Enforces Safe Search. Device-specific Internet time scheduling. Reports all sites visited and blocked. Optional daily activity email. Cons: Reports can't identify activity by specific users.